Gov. Abercrombie scored two points yesterday: state Rep. Jessica Wooley agreed to leave her key House Agriculture Committee chairmanship for a job in his cabinet, and a Senate panel advanced his pick for Hawaii Supreme Court — even though the Hawaii State Bar Association deemed Judge Mike Wilson unqualified.
According to the Hawaii Free Press, a Kahuku resident has repeatedly accused Wilson, a Circuit Court judge who previously ran the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, of being part-owner in an illegal vacation rental on Kewalo Bay.
Wooley, an anti-GMO champion in the House, will direct the Office of Environmental Quality Control — a job that Gary Hooser ditched when he was elected to the Kauai County Council. Wooley is married to Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, who made a failed bid for lieutenant governor on a ticket headed by William Aila, current head of DLNR.
As Life of the Land's Henry Curtis reports, Wooley accepted the job despite the ALL CAPS exhortations of Babes Against Biotech, the mouthpiece of the Hawaii anti-GMO contingent. Which tells you pretty much all you to need know about how that movement has crumbled into parody and powerlessness.
Meanwhile, the proposed dairy continues to take cracks, with Surfrider Foundation's Robert Zelkovsky bemoaning possible harm to “the most pristine accessible area on Kauai and possibly in the state.” Pristine? The acreage in question was cultivated in sugar for more than a century, then used as a dairy and is currently in cattle pastures that adjoin land leased by the biotech firms.
He falsely likens it to the Moloaa dairy, though it will use an entirely different model. The Moloaa dairy did have wastewater problems, but it failed primarily because it was upstream of the Papaa Bay “ag” estate of Peter Guber. As a wealthy movie producer and casino owner, Guber had the dough to drag the dairy operators through court for years as he meanwhile closed off a traditional beach access, dug up iwi and installed spotlights that shone into the ocean. So the dairy folded and Guber, after winning a lawsuit to keep the access closed, moved on and sold the property at a fine profit.
Dr. Zelkovsky also previously posted on Facebook:
If Kaua'i govt and business officials want ag on ag land, how about planting FOOD, which we import 90% of ours rather than seed corn and milk cows. 17 million into milk cows could go very far into string beans and broccoli.
First, since when is milk not food? Though Dr. Zelkovsky and others denounce it as human food, lots of people like it and want it. Who are we to say they shouldn't have a local source? And does this mean we shouldn't be growing coffee, flowers, nursery plants, trees, horses, biofuel stock or other non-food crops on ag land? Not to mention TVRs, mansions, the Resonance Project and restaurants.
Second, billionaire Pierre Omidyar isn't offering $17 million for vege farms. He chose to bankroll a dairy primarily because it required a much larger investment than a single farmer could swing.
Third, folks don't seem to understand that one large vegetable farm could swamp the entire Kauai market, and drive all the small guys who supply the farmers' markets out of business. I don't think anyone really wants that. To truly feed ourselves, we need more production of protein and carbohydrates, like ulu, sweet potatoes and taro, all of which have been grown here successfully for centuries.
Meanwhile, the Agribusiness Development Corp., which manages state ag lands, will be leasing 300 acres on the westside to a farmer who plans to grow sweet potatoes. He will be cultivating 30 acres at time, moving around through the fallow seed corn fields. Sweet potatoes use different nutrients than corn, and by moving the potato crop, nematodes won't get established.
The seed companies have long resisted this type of co-existence, which one farmer described as a “crack in the wall, a foot in the door.” If the sweet potato grower can make a go of it, he will become competitive with the seed/chem companies, which could help replace them with local food crops.
I spent some time yesterday with lifelong dairyman and farmer Jerry Ornellas, who lives not far from me. He pointed out the old factory, next to the Kapahi Menehune Mart, where cans were made for the pineapple that was grown and processed here. He also showed me the remnants of several small slaughterhouses. There used to be four within a five-mile radius in the Wailua Homesteads-Kapahi area, all serving folks who were raising their own food.
The region is now primarily residential and gentleman's estates, with small pockets of ranching and farming. I thought of how people today would scream bloody murder if there was a slaughterhouse or a can factory in their neighborhood.
It seems we want to feed ourselves, just not anywhere we can see, smell or hear agricultural activities.
And I reflected on how I'd stopped by Poipu Beach Park the other day, just to check it out and pass a bit of time between appointments. The stench of cigarettes, fabric softener and sunscreen made me feel sick to my stomach, and I had to walk to the furtherest corner of the park to get upwind of the smells generated by the hordes of tourists happily frolicking there.
Tourism has tremendous impacts that are largely unquantified in Hawaii. The industry consumes massive amounts of water and electricity, generates tons of trash and contributes to the degradation of coastal waters. It's commodified the culture, appropriated beaches, accelerated socio-economic disparities and disrupted the peace with its incessant helicopter, rental car and tour boat activity. It does contribute to the economy, but it also exacts a heavy toll, in terms of infrastructure maintenance.
No one has ever done the calculations to determine whether tourism's economic benefits outweigh its full costs — indeed, the Sierra Club lost its legal bid to require the Hawaii Tourism Authority to conduct an environmental assessment before allocating $114 million to the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau for marketing and promotion. As the New York Times reported in 2000:
''Seven million tourists descend on Hawaii each year, drinking our water, using our electricity, generating sewage and garbage and filling our beaches,'' said Jeff Mikulina, the director of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter. ''An environmental assessment would tell us whether Hawaii's physical and natural infrastructure can handle more tourists.''
By 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available, Hawaii was up to 8,028,744 visitors annually — a 10 percent increase over the previous year. On Kauai, the numbers rose 8.6 percent to 1,211,482 visitors in 2012, and the forecast and push is for ever more growth statewide.
Yet tourism is no longer challenged, or even questioned. Instead, the agriculture that many of us have fought so hard to preserve is reviled as a dirty, toxic, unsustainable industry.
As Hawaii Public Radio's Beth-Ann Kozlovich noted when I joined her on The Conversation this morning, “The worm has turned.”